Better than chemo

by , posted on January 22nd, 2011 in Just me

It was the eyebrows that got me.

Just tufts, really, and only at the very peak. Bright red. Still.

After chemo and radiation and a bone marrow transplant.

His hair has started growing back, more auburn than carrot, and now threaded with grey.

He was painfully thin. He looked somehow…less.

He had lived with the cancer – leukemia – dormant in his body for 11 years. It was supposed to be only two, but somehow, it left him alone.

So he ran. A marathon for every year he was in remission.

That’s how I met him, training for my first marathon for Team in Training, the fundraising arm of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

And then when I trained for my second, we did spin class together. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:45 a.m. He’d always save me a bike.

He loved running. He wasn’t tough to spot: Well over six-foot tall, Howdy Doody ears, bright red hair.

He’d occasionally slow his pace to run with my training partners and me for a few miles.

Always encouraging. Always happy.

IT was inspiring, watching him pound mile after mile, seeing him hit the weights before – and after – our spin class.

“It’s better than chemo,” he’d say, and I wrote it on my arm with Sharpie for my first marathon to remind myself no matter how much it hurt, there were things far worse. Far, far worse.

Today was the first time I saw him since the cancer came back. I had just finished a 4.5 mile run and stopped to grab bagels for the kids. He was heading into the shop.

We hugged.

I tried not to stare.

Twenty-five pounds, he guessed he’d lost. He’d thought he had an ulcer, but it turned out a tumor had started wrapping itself around his stomach.

The eyebrows. So him. So bright on his pale face, drawn face.

He’s back in remission now. Thankfully. Thankfully. But still recovering.

Every year, Team in Training raises a ton of money, much of which goes to cancer research. That means there are new drugs, new protocols, and his cancer could now be gone for good.

It is one thing to read about friends of friends, like beautiful Ashlei, who posted here Monday about her friend with cancer – the friend passed away two days later. Or another friend of a friend’s daughter, who, at age 5, was just diagnosed with an inoperable, malignant brain tumor and has maybe nine months to live.

It’s too much, isn’t it? It’s too much to even think about those we know only through association.

But today, I saw for myself what cancer can do.

I also saw what the spirit can do.

Tall John is walking a half-marathon Feb. 6.

And he raised thousands of dollars.

Because that’s what he does.

He pounds out the miles.

He inspires.

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57 Responses to “Better than chemo”

  1. Jessica Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 2:06 am

    so beautiful. So inspiring. Really does put it all into perspective. thank you for this


  2. Amy @ Soul Dipper Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 2:43 am

    This won my heart, Cheryl. So well written – what a tribute to a great spirit. Some of the most incredible people in my life have been the ones who have had to face their death. I adore people who have their priorities in the order of love and freedom!
    Amy @ Soul Dipper recently posted..Transformation Talk


  3. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 3:08 am

    What an amazing person he is. This is beautifully written and really captures the spirit of this man.

    Thanks for sharing this story. So inspiring.
    Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) recently posted..Dance With Me


  4. Patrice Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 4:12 am

    Beautiful post. Brought me to tears. My 17 year old sister is currently fighting cancer, and her 18 year old friend fighting leukemia. I hate that people so young have to go through something so awful. But people like you who do something about cancer, do what you can to fight back, are so inspiring! Thank you for doing your part! And best wishes to your friend for continued health.
    Patrice recently posted..It Changed My Life


    Cheryl Reply:

    Oh, Patrice – that’s awful. What to say? Only that I hope so my your sister and her friend beat this horrific disease.


  5. Jessica Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Oh wow, beautifully written and inspiring. Puts into perspective what a “tough day” actually is. Many kudos to you for doing your part. I’m glad you started my morning off with John.
    Jessica recently posted..Crazy Bus


  6. Erin Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 7:59 am

    oh my God. This is…I have no words. It is just beautiful and sad and inspiring. God Bless You and Him.
    Erin recently posted..Livin on the Edge


  7. Nancy Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 8:03 am

    My rock-star diva friend and piano teacher to both my children just sang at my daughter’s wedding–first performance since finishing treatment for breast cancer. The eyebrows, yes. Her hair is just starting to grow back. She watched the video of herself singing, having seen many recordings of herself performing. This was different, watching herself after all she and her body had been through. She watched herself come back triumphantly. I like that you have a tag for “cancer is an asshole.” I have one for “cancer is stupid.”
    Nancy recently posted..C S Lewis On Friendship


    Cheryl Reply:

    That’s amazing. Truly, truly amazing. I am so glad she was able to sing on such a special day – and that she’s made it back so triumphantly!


  8. Annabelle Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Thanks for the reminder of what tough really is.

    Annabelle recently posted..Blue Light Special


  9. Varda (SquashedMom) Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 9:01 am

    This post is so beautiful. Sad and also inspirational. My brother has lymphoma, and has been struggling with it for 12 years now, dipping in and out of technical remissions, knowing every time he goes through treatment that this time or the next might be the one that it stops working. So far so good, and he is living a very full life. But still, there is always a part of us waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thank you for raising money for this important cause.
    Varda (SquashedMom) recently posted..Award Season


    Cheryl Reply:

    John figured it would eventually come back. But it was 11 years.. I’m just so thankful he’s beaten it again. He’s amazing.


  10. Kelly C Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Wow! Incredible story!
    Kelly C recently posted..Day 24 – A picture of something you wish you could change


  11. Elissa Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I have no words…except to say “thank you” for writing this.


  12. Natalie Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 10:58 am

    So beautiful, touching and also inspiring.

    I’ve lost an aunt to cancer when I was very young. I now have another aunt fighting the terrible disease. It’s an uphill battle, but I know she can do it.


    Cheryl Reply:

    Thinking good thoughts for your aunt. And I am so sorry about your loss of another aunt.


  13. Sarah @ a drop of golden sun Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Cheryl, this is an amazing post. Thank you for sharing your experience with John, with us. Truly an eye-opener & I love that you wrote it on your arm. What a great boost of encouragement for anyone!


  14. Theresa Sonoda Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Your words are so lovely, so sad and so very true! Anyone who’s been personally touched by the C word knows and feels what you know and feel. My heart goes out to you, and to your friend. He is inspiring!



  15. Jessica Anne Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 11:50 am

    What a beautiful and inspiring tribute to your friend. I hope you share it with him.
    Jessica Anne recently posted..Dinner In


  16. gigi Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    he sounds like an amazing, amazing person.
    gigi recently posted..A Letter to Kyle Richards


  17. Jennifer Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Tears. Chills. Inspiration. I had a friend pass away from cancer… horrible disease. I pray for complete recovery for your friend!
    Jennifer recently posted..I Need to Stick with Cereal


    Cheryl Reply:

    I am so, so sorry for your loss. It’s unimaginable.


  18. @MultitaskMumma Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    beautiful, inspiring post
    @MultitaskMumma recently posted..I live with this man


  19. Melaniem Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 7:18 pm


    So sorry to hear about Ashlei’s friend. So inspiring to hear about your friend. (Sigh!) Cancer chills me to the bone. I don’t why but it just does. I have a friend now battling cancer — it is amazing to her strength and her tough spirit. To see what she has become because of her battle. Thanks for sharing your friend’s story. It’s help me to see that there are positive effects to having cancer.


    Cheryl Reply:

    Sending many good thoughts to your friend and her continuing battle. Cancer is awful and vicious and terrifying, too.


  20. Renee Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    I’m glad to hear your friend is in remission again. What a strong spirit.

    My husband is a cancer survivor. 14 years. His ornery sense of humor, I think, helped get us through.
    Renee recently posted..A Little Sunday Miracle!


    Cheryl Reply:

    Fourteen years. That’s awesome. Really, really awesome.


  21. Andrea Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Amazing isn’t it! How the human spirit can do so much when it is put against a wall! Go Team in Training! Yeah!
    Andrea recently posted..Choosing a School for Your Child


    Cheryl Reply:

    I was going to send you a message to come read this – I know you get the power of TNT! Go Team!


  22. Nancy C Says:

    January 22nd, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    I give my $26.20 cents annually to my friend, Brian, who has raised over $10,000 for TNT.

    He’s a hero, too.

    When you run for TNT next time, let me know, so I can contribute.

    This hit me right at my heart, Cheryl. Thank you for writing hope today.
    Nancy C recently posted..Red Writing Hood- The Candle of Memory


    Cheryl Reply:

    I will let you know. Raising money is really tough for me, since I hate asking, but it was incredibly rewarding to do something that would really help people. It actually was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, other than have children.

    Thank you, Nancy. So much.


  23. Grams Says:

    January 23rd, 2011 at 12:23 am

    “It’s better than chemo.” That’s going to stick with me.
    Grams recently posted..The Substitute Diaries on Re-writing Literature


  24. Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points Says:

    January 23rd, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    And here I am whining about how hard it will be to get back into my running routine.

    I need to shut the hell up.

    And just run.
    Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points recently posted..The Chosen Three


  25. Kristy Says:

    January 23rd, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    It is scary and heartbreaking and inspiring. Thank you for sharing.


  26. Jill Says:

    January 23rd, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Wow Cheryl. I can totally picture him through your words. Ever since losing my BFF last year these stories feel like salt in an open wound.

    I love that you wrote his words on your arm. Maybe I should put that above my treadmill, cuz I’m having serious motivation issues.

    I’m so glad your friend is healthy again!
    Jill recently posted..He&8217s all good


  27. Sherri Says:

    January 23rd, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    OK, so like I said before? Tears, Cheryl. Tears over here.

    I have no words to honor what this friend has gone through, or the strength he shows. Wow, what a touching reminder that life is so fragile and yet so strong.
    Sherri recently posted..Featured on BlogHer Today!


  28. Crystal Says:

    January 23rd, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    That is so touching! Thanx for sharing. I wish him luck in his fight against cancer.
    Crystal recently posted..You Get Days Off!


  29. Moomser Says:

    January 24th, 2011 at 10:43 am

    My husband is recovering from leukemia. He was diagnosed right before Christmas 2009, exactly one month after our daughter was born, he had a BM transplant last April. It is a long, hard process, and we’re not over the hill yet, but it’s always heartening to hear of other survivors who are living their lives again, with strength, with hope and with optimism cause it gives us hope that we’re going to get through it too.
    Better than chemo…. I love this title, and I’ll think of it when I start complaining about the myriad little inconveniences in life! I haven’t slept in a week, still, it’s better than chemo! The kids are driving me nuts, it’s better than chemo! I have to diet / exercise… it’s way better than chemo!
    Thanks, you made my day!
    Moomser recently posted..Faith


    Cheryl Reply:

    I am so sorry for what your husband – and your family – are going through. It’s unimaginable. Unfortunately, my friend John is not the only one I know who’s going through it or has gone through it.

    He is so incredibly inspiring and optimistic, it does make other complaints seem petty.

    Sending good thoughts to your husband for a full recovery and long life..


  30. L. Eleana Says:

    January 24th, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this story! His strength is inspiring!!!
    L. Eleana recently posted..When Your Mother-In-Law Buys Your Child –


  31. mommakiss Says:

    January 24th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I think you know my thoughts on cancer, that it needs to get cancer. twice. and that I f’kn hate it. This man, like my friend A, they have the strength to face it and just do what you gotta do…Thinking good thoughts for him.
    mommakiss recently posted..17


    Cheryl Reply:

    Thanks, babe. I know you know I bet if cancer got cancer – twice – it would stop being, you know, cancer.


  32. joann Says:

    January 24th, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    wow. This is beautiful and heart wrenching. Something I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
    joann recently posted..Disneyland Confessions- Part 1- The Ugly


  33. Tonya Says:

    January 24th, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.

    I didn’t know you trained with Team In Training.

    Such awe-inspiring and heartbreaking tales.
    Tonya recently posted..Rabbit Hole


  34. Rudri Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Oh Cheryl, I am in tears. This is important. I believe that everyday I have a chance to run, it is a privilege and an acknowledgment that health is something that you should never take for granted. Thanks to your runner friend for showing us that.
    Rudri recently posted..Would You Stop


  35. Carri Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Wow. Great post and beautiful story. Your friend is so so strong and I really admire that. I wish him all the best.
    Carri recently posted..Guest Post – My Favorite Foul Mouthed Supermom


  36. MamaRobinJ Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Really inspiring post.
    MamaRobinJ recently posted..Mirror Image


  37. Michelle Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 2:42 am

    A great and inspiring story on what you can acheive in difficult situations.
    To Moomser, my Oma fought leukemia for 14 years and I’m sure it was pure will power. Unfortunately, everyone is affective by cancer, if only indirectly. I lost my Mum about 4 years ago and it’s still hard. Thanks for posting about your friend who refuses to give up.


    Cheryl Reply:

    I am so sorry to hear about your Mum. There are no words..


    Michelle Reply:

    Thank you Cheryl. It’s never easy, but at 6.5 months pregnant if was difficult. Having a newborn to care for though, kept me going and from having PPD.
    Michelle recently posted..Benefits of Tea Tree Oil


  38. PartlySunny Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 2:49 am

    I’m so glad your friend is doing well. My mom died from cancer in 2009, so it’s nice to hear the good stories. Nicely done.


    Cheryl Reply:

    Wow, I am so sorry. I wish they could all be good stories, you know?


  39. Rachel Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Beautiful post. So meaningful to me as I’ve watched so many suffer through chemo. How inspiring you’ve made his words your mantra.
    Rachel recently posted..The Jewish Guilt


  40. Scarlett Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Absolutely inspiring, thank you for sharing.
    Scarlett recently posted..The end of Valentines Day as we know it


  41. Jen Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Cancer sucks. I’m so glad Tall John is in remission again. I know I’ve lost too many people already.

    Thank you for some inspiration today!
    Jen recently posted..Good Morning! Where are your pants


  42. JP Says:

    January 30th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    People like your friend, John, are an inspiration! Someday I’ll share a story with my bloggers about another…:)JP
    JP recently posted..The Paddle Boat


    Cheryl Reply:

    I hope you do share it!


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